Shirley Temple was not only one of the most famous child stars of the 1930’s, but she was also the biggest box office draw four years in a row from 1935-1938, topping such popular adult stars as Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, and Joan Crawford. That four year stretch is a record that still stands today.
She was a talented tap dancer and singer who according to her mother at least, could also sing with perfect pitch. She was so popular during that time that merchandise bearing her image such as dolls, clothes, glassware, and books sold very well despite the fact that the country was in the middle of the Great Depression.
My Introduction to Shirley Temple: The Brady Bunch – Snooperstar
Before I came to like old movies, my only knowledge of Shirley Temple came from an episode of The Brady Bunch, and unfortunately it caused me to have an unflattering opinion of her. In an episode called “The Snooperstar” a revenge seeking Marcia Brady convinces her sister Cindy that a talent scout is interested in making her “the next Shirley Temple”.
So Cindy dressed up like Shirley including wearing a dress similar to ones she wore in her earlier movies and putting her hair up in Shirley’s famous curls, and sang “The Good Ship Lollipop” to the “talent scout”. I just remember thinking the song was so annoying and assumed Shirley Temple would be, too. Well, I’m sure some people still think she is, but I eventually came to love her and her movies. I realized that it wasn’t Shirley, but Cindy Brady who was annoying.
I never gave any thought to watching Shirley Temple movies until I decided to borrow a tape of Bright Eyes from my aunt to see what the fuss over her was all about. Little did I know I would go from having such an unfavorable opinion of her (though it was based on an unfair assumption) to watching and loving most of her movies. I just recently re-watched the movie Bright Eyes, and it gave me the idea to do a top 10 list of my favorite Shirley Temple Movies.
My Top 10 Favorite Shirley Temple Movies:
Though it wasn’t one of Shirley’s best movies by any means, I really enjoyed watching it for a couple of reasons. Much of the movie was set on a cruise ship and for some reason I love watching movies in that setting. I also enjoyed watching a young Robert Young who I had been more familiar with as Marcus Welby M.D. from the 1970’s tv show of the same name.
This was probably one of the first movies that made me realize what a talented dancer Shirley Temple was. For me this movie was worth watching if for no other reason than to see the wonderful song and dance routine with Shirley and her co-star Buddy Ebsen, set to the song “At the Codfish Ball”.
Heidi was based on the book of the same name by Johanna Spyri in which an orphan is taken away from her grandfather who she lives with in the Alps to live with a family in Frankfurt. I’ve never read the book so I’m not sure how similar it is to the movie, but I read that in the book Heidi is much more distraught over being taken away from her grandfather than she is in the movie. I don’t think I should read the book then, because even though I knew it wasn’t real, some of the scenes in the movie broke my heart to the point that it was hard for me to watch at times.
Shirley was loaned out by Fox Films to Paramount Pictures for this film and soon after became a big star. I thought Shirley was adorable in this movie and was impressed with her charm and singing ability while singing the song “Laugh You Son of a Gun” with her co-star Dorothy Dell, someone Shirley came to adore in real life. Sadly, Dorothy died in a car accident shortly after filming, and when Shirley was told the news on the set of her next movie, her co-star Gary Cooper had to console her as she was very distraught.
6. Since You Went Away
This is the first of three movies on my list that were made when Shirley was a teenager and one where she did not have the lead role. Both filmed and set during World War II, the movie tells the story of a family coping with their husband/father being away at war, and it contains wonderful performances by Claudette Colbert, Jennifer Jones, and one of my favorite actors, Joseph Cotten.
5. I’ll Be Seeing You
This movie was also made when Shirley was a teenager and just like Since You Went Away was set during World War II. She once again co-starred with Joseph Cotten and the lead role was played by Ginger Rogers. I was interested to learn that Ginger disliked Shirley and unsuccessfully tried to have her removed from the cast.
4. Curly Top
This is one of Shirley’s more light-hearted and feel good movies in the sense that even though she is an orphan, she spends most of it living happily in a nice house with the man who eventually adopts her. She has two scenes where she shows off her dancing and singing ability while singing the songs “Animal Crackers in my Soup” and “When I Grow Up”.
A very funny screwball comedy that was made when Shirley was nearly 20 years old, this movie starred two of my favorite actors, Cary Grant and Myrna Loy. Shirley plays a girl named Susan Turner who develops a crush on Cary Grant’s character. Given that I knew her first for her roles as a child, it was a little strange watching a grown up Shirley Temple interacting with a love interest, but at least it was all done in fun.
2. Poor Little Rich Girl
In a bit of a refreshing twist, this is one of the few movies where Shirley Temple’s character is not an orphan or has not been abandoned by a parent. She was somewhat neglected by her father, but he did at least truly love her. The movie contains so many cute and funny songs including “When I’m with You”, ” You’ve Gotta Eat Your Spinach, Baby”, and my favorite “Oh My Goodness”, and also wonderful tap dance routines with her co-stars Alice Faye and Jack Haley. The long tap dance number they perform at the end of the film to the song “Military Man” is wonderful and not to be missed!
1. Bright Eyes
As I mentioned above, this is the movie that first introduced me to the real Shirley Temple, and for that it will always be special to me. Bright Eyes was the first movie Shirley starred in that was written specifically for her. She plays a tragically orphaned girl who fights for the right to live with her beloved godfather Loop, played by James Dunn. This is the movie in which Shirley sings the famous song “The Good Ship Lollipop” aboard one of the airplanes flown by Loop. After all the years of thinking Shirley Temple was an annoying little girl, I finally discovered how cute, charming and talented she really was.
Honorable mention could go to The Little Princess and Baby Take a Bow, but given that I was only picking 10, they didn’t quite make the list. The only movies that I can remember not liking were Little Miss Broadway and The Blue Bird. I haven’t watched all her movies especially many of those she made near the end of her acting career, but considering how many of her movies I have watched, not liking just two is quite impressive.
What is your favorite Shirley Temple movie?